Malaysiakini Letter

Can Icerd undo xenophobic barriers?

Hafidz Baharom  |  Published:  | 

LETTER | It seems the country is divided on whether Malaysia should sign the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd). So, I would do what I usually do first – open up a web browser, Google it, read a Wikipedia page and subsequently the links attached.

And this is what I found.

I find it ironic because this convention historically was introduced to contain anti-Semitism. Just looking at our current prime minister, it is quite the irony.

While Lim Kit Siang is right in saying there are Muslim countries who have signed the Icerd, he omitted to mention that many of them do not bother recognising the need to refer disputes on racial discrimination to the International Court of Justice.

Of course, it is also interesting to note that the Icerd was used by the Romani people – also known as gipsies – against both Slovakia and Serbia and Montenegro for restrictions on freedom of movement and residence and access to public spaces.

Meanwhile, the convention has also been signed by nations who do not see it implying any obligations beyond the limits of their existing constitutions.

So now, I have a few questions which seem to be asked to the legal sector. Let us start with the biggest one in the room. If Malaysia does sign the Icerd, will the government then guarantee the privileges (not rights) of the Malays as per the Federal Constitution?

Considering how this government could not even keep its promise of splitting up the attorney-general and public prosecutor roles per their manifesto, it is clear that anything requiring two-thirds of Parliament support will not happen any time soon.

Thus, the Malaysian Malays should not have such a concern. However, there are a few more everyday issues in Malaysia that need to be considered. What about things that are not guaranteed in the constitution and offered to the bumiputera community?

Are these going to be reconsidered, and opened to become for all Malaysians?

There is nothing specifically in the constitution guaranteeing a bumiputera discount on housing, or even a bumiputera priority in business contracts or even bank loans. Under Article 153, it does, however, put the right to a bumiputera quota for the civil service and in universities, colleges – pretty much everything after the SPM is in the hands of the king.

It is, of course, up to the king to decide what is a “reasonable” proportion of “scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government” to be put aside for the bumiputera, as per the article.

That being said, I see the Icerd with another point of interest especially since I live in a rented property in a condominium complex and have seen some racially tainted shenanigans going about.

For example, if the government does sign the Icerd, what action will they take against property owners who discriminate against Africans in Malaysia? What legal recourse is the government thinking against this form of racial discrimination?

Can the same action be taken against immigration officers who decide to detain migrant workers, marking it a hate crime?

Also, can the Bangladeshis, the Africans, the Nepalese and even Indonesians here file hate speech reports against the authorities or even the daily angry customer or delivery boy who jeers at them with racial slurs at cash registers, in a fresh market or even at apartment security gates?

Similarly, since employment will be seen as needing to be racially equal, will there be further checks and requirements placed on listed companies to show their racial equality in their corporate structures?

Could people in the same company, on the same corporate level, with the same years of experience, proving they have had the same score in annual KPI reviews and yet earning different salaries, subsequently take their complaint to the authorities that the company was racially biased?

I am not so much concerned about the case for race and religious rights and will leave that for the king and the sultans to act on.

I am more concerned, however, towards the everyday actions taken for granted, where we see people mock migrant workers, miss a promotion in corporate structures over race, even unto foreigners who cannot rent a property or get a Grab car based on their skin tone.

The signing of Icerd will, in fact, police all of these under Articles 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the convention. In fact, should anyone bring up how a proposed rail line will bring in “foreigners into their township”, it will also be against the convention.

For myself, if signing the Icerd guarantees that everyone including migrants and Malaysians are treated with respect - that there will be legal recourse for them against discrimination based on race against companies, e-hailing car drivers and their app owners, listed companies who promote along racial lines, members of the police, the immigration department, and even teachers and lecturers who use racially tinged mockery for a laugh, then more power to it.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Special Report

The ICERD Outrage

Malaysia is one of only two Muslim-majority countries in the world that have not ratified ICERD.

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